BAPCO 2016: Migrating to LTE
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

The global public safety community is following the migration of the UK’s emergency services from TETRA to LTE with considerable interest. Sam Fenwick reports from BAPCO 2016, which provided an update on the programme

The BAPCO Show 2016, which took place at the Telford International Centre on 22 to 23 March, focused on the migration of the UK’s emergency services from the Airwave TETRA network to the Emergency Services Network, which is currently in the design and planning phase. Representatives from the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) and its main commercial partners (KBR, Motorola Solutions and EE) discussed both the progress so far and outlined what is still to come.

“As of today we are on track for ESN [Emergency Services Network] transition,” says Richard Hewlett, deputy programme director at the Home Office. “It’s the best start I could hope for.” Hewlett adds that he has been impressed by the level of co-operation between the partners. “There’s an understanding between ESMCP and the delivery partners that ‘if one of us fails, we all fail’.”

Hewlett says that the project’s first major milestone was in January and the next will be in May. Some of the Show’s attendees expressed concerns over availability of the technical information required for user organisations to plan their transitions to the ESN, and whether this would be forthcoming in May.

Another source of concern for end users and the supplier community is the amount of time it will take to install new equipment. However, Hewlett says that the ESMCP has analysed a lot of in-vehicle installations, and while “there will be pressure” he is confident that they can be done in the time available.

“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy [but we] have all the sources in place to make sure we get the training right and vehicles modified,” says Rees Ward, senior advisor at KBR Government Services EMEA.

“There are going to be really tricky issues to work through but we are in a better place than when we were with [the transition to] Airwave.” He notes that the previous transition replaced multiple systems, which used different frequencies, radio manufacturers and contracting mechanisms.

“We’ve got an awful lot of corporate memory to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes,” Ward says.

He adds that regional groups will be liaising with each other so that the lessons learnt from the first transitions can be passed on to regions that are scheduled to switch over later in the programme. Ward also explains that KBR has a “real focus” on delivering early warnings for issues that could cause disruption. It will be performing readiness assessments and monitoring the progress of user organisations.

As far as training end users for the ESN is concerned, Ward says it needs to be practically simultaneous with the deployment of the equipment they will be using – as otherwise their training won’t be reinforced by using the

new equipment on a daily basis. As delivery partner KBR will instruct around 2,500 people to be trainers. Ward says he is currently recruiting group transition managers, and it is his intention for there to be a group transition manager for each end user group, who will be with it “day in, day out”.

“The notion of doing a pilot test in each of the user organisations before you scope to transition seems a really smart thing to do. Those pilot tests will be a conversation between the delivery partner and the user organisation themselves,” he says.

Ward was asked if the delivery partner would be able to fly in support should it see something that puts the programme at risk in a particular organisation. He states that it is not the delivery partner’s role to supply additional personnel, but “what we can do is help you identify resources that you might want to use”, and gives the example of additional trainers.

Providing coverage
According to Simon Frumkin, VP of procurement and supply chain at EE, the BT/ EE merger will increase EE’s expertise, assisting in its roll out of the ESN. He adds that EE is building a new and dedicated core network for the ESN and says the company can deliver the ESN in time. He explains EE is acquiring, building and upgrading sites “as we speak”, while also investing in power resilience.

Steve Whatson, deputy director of the ESMCP at the Home Office, says that EE will be required to provide the same vehicle coverage as Airwave for major and minor roads: a probability of obtaining access to services of at least 96 per cent and at least 87 per cent respectively, at every location, rising to 99 per cent and 96 per cent respectively on a random basis. The same is true for handheld and marine coverage (87 per cent by total area, 96 per cent on a random basis). The ESN must provide air to ground coverage up to 12,000 feet, double the altitude demanded of Airwave.

The predicted EE 4G commercial coverage extends to 94.5 per cent of the UK road network, rising to 99.2 per cent once Extended Area Services (EAS) coverage is included. Similarly the ESN’s air to ground geographical coverage is predicted to be more than 98 per cent at 500 feet. To provide coverage for the London Underground tunnels the ESMCP is running trials using existing leaky feeder cable, while station coverage will be supplied by either upgrading TfL’s existing Wi-Fi access points with 4G or having 4G access points running alongside them.

Mansoor Hanif, director of radio access networks at EE, says that until six months ago EE thought the latency of 4G over satellite was too high. However, the company has tested it and found that it works. To help safeguard reliability Hanif says that EE is making sure that it is contractually entitled to 24-hour access to all its sites, but adds that it needs powers to enforce such access. It is using 800 MHz spectrum, carrier aggregation and VoLTE as part of its strategy to deliver the coverage and capacity required by the UK’s emergency services.

Deploying sites in remote areas is a big challenge, as can be seen by the results of the Mobile Infrastructure Project, which is expected to eventually deliver only 50 sites for enhanced cellular coverage for consumers – roughly a sixth of that predicted at the outset. Part of the issue was the difficulty of obtaining planning permission and connections to the power grid in remote areas.

I asked Whatson for an update on EAS (a project to set up new sites to provide ESN coverage in areas that typically have no existing MNO coverage). He explains that it will be divided into three separate contracts: framework (for the acquisition, design and construction of the sites), backhaul, and facilities management. Under the framework contract companies will provide mast sites with passive radio equipment. Once they are complete EE will install its active RF equipment. Whatson says that the ITT (invitation to tender) for the framework is now closed and the ESMCP is evaluating the responses it has received. The framework will have six to eight companies that will be announced around the end of May 2016. The ESMCP will then launch mini competitions for those companies to acquire, design and build sites.

To ensure that EAS rollout stays on schedule the ESMCP is undertaking site surveys, so when the competitions begin it has an information pack it can give to the companies. Additionally the ESMCP, together with Motorola Solutions and EE, is investigating the use of satellite for backhaul. Whatson says: “Satellite may well offer an opportunity to get the sites up very quickly even if we subsequently replace that with a microwave link in future.”

He adds that the ITT for the facilities management contract – to manage ESN sites when they are up and running – will come out later this year, as it is less time-critical than the other two EAS contracts.

Whatson explains that the ESMCP has learnt from the Mobile Infrastructure Project: “We have engaged various local authorities and National Parks England so that they’re aware of what’s coming.” He adds that national parks in particular are a challenge, but equally “the national parks authority and the people who live there want to be part of today’s society, which means they need mobile phone and broadband coverage.”

Tom Bennett, EE’s group director of technology services, architecture & devices, says that EE’s network is currently at 99.6 per cent availability, and under the terms of the ESN contract it needs to increase this by 0.2 of a percentage point.

To do this it is investing in additional resilience in the form of power infrastructure, batteries and resilient backhaul. It will also roll out 500 new sites, of which 300 will be for the macro network and 200 will be small cells. The contract focuses on providing permanent coverage without the use of mobile solutions, except for patching holes in coverage in the event that base stations go down and require repairs.

“[Device to device communications will eventually be used] but my personal view is probably not for the first three to four years,” he says. “We’ve got to go through ESN delivery first, which is 3GPP Release 12. We’ve then got to migrate to 3GPP Release 13... [Mesh networking] comes in the stage after that.”

From EE’s perspective migrating to Release 13 is “a set of upgrades that cover the elements of the solution: device, RAM, sometimes transmission but normally not, core network, and applications. So it’s a major integration programme, but oddly enough it’s something mobile network operators do on average every 18 months – it’s business as usual, [although] its an extra special, be careful business as usual.

Part of EE’s thinking in bidding for the ESN contract is that it couldn’t adhere to its brand message of being the UK’s top network without doing so. Bennett highlights that the company has a track record when it comes to innovation: “We led with 4G on 1,800 MHz four years ago.”

When asked if the work to prepare EE’s network for the ESN will ensure it is better positioned for the transition to 5G, Bennett says: “5G can be overlaid. Whereas 4G was completely separate to 3G, you can build 5G on 4G.”

Bennett explains that EE’s existing customers will benefit from the ESN contract in the form of increased reliability. EE’s commercial network will comprise the same physical infrastructure as the ESN (save for the EAS sites, which will be delivered by the Home Office). However, when asked about the possible implications of non-ESN users reporting coverage issues once the ESN is up and running, Bennett points out that as ESN devices have a higher power ratio than the typical iPhone they will get better signal, implying that criminals wouldn’t be able to assume that areas where consumers struggle to get a signal would present the same problem for the emergency services.

He adds that concerns about the impact of ESN users having priority over other users should be seen in the context of there being 300,000 such users on a network designed to support 35 million people.

Hanif also discusses the use of airmasts for disaster recovery and emergency response. These would feature meshed small cells/ network in a box/repeater solutions installed within balloons, UAVs or helicopters. However, he notes that this approach would require regulatory and Civil Aviation Authority support. The EU-funded Project ABSOLUTE has already demonstrated the use of airborne RF equipment for this purpose [see the December issue of the BAPCO Journal – Ed].

“Hanif made a convert out of me with the balloons,” says Bennett. “I’ve been out to Japan and I have seen it working. It has a unique fin, which means that regardless of wind it’s never more than 45 degrees out [of alignment]. There’s a microwave pointing straight down to a van, the van in turn has satellite uplink back, and there’s a small eNodeB in the barrage balloon. They got VoLTE working seven kilometres away. I was gobsmacked.”

Delivering devices
John Muench, senior director of the UKHO Emergency Services Network Programme at Motorola Solutions, says that because the Airwave network will be present through the transition to the ESN it reduces the risks associated with the project. To make migration easier there will be integration between the ESN and Airwave networks by using Motorola Solutions’ WAVE 7000 system.

Land Mobile asks Hewlett if the ESMCP sees a potential conflict of interest between Motorola Solutions’ role in delivering ESN Lot 2 – which includes approving devices for use on the Emergency Services Network – and it being a supplier of devices, and if so how the ESMCP is managing that issue.

“It’s a valid concern and it’s something we’re acutely aware of. What we want to achieve is to make sure that there’s a diverse and robust ecosystem around device supply.” He adds that the ESMCP has discussed this with Motorola Solutions to ensure there’s a level playing field. “For us [ESMCP] it’s a critical point and it’s built into the contract.”

Motorola Solutions’ senior technical architect Adrian Parsons and sales director, UK&I, Richard Thompson give some insight into the kind of devices that will be used by first responders once the ESN is up and running. For example, they discuss the company’s LEX L10 LTE smartphone, which has a large push- to-talk button, a 10-hour removable battery and runs on the Android operating system. They also present its Si500/Si700 body-worn video camera. As the Si700 has a built-in LTE bearer it could connect to a TETRA radio via a cord for dual mode operation. They envisage the creation of a mission-critical ecosystem of smart devices, connected by secure Bluetooth, such as holster sensors, wireless printers and automatic number plate recognition.

They see four main options for in-vehicle connectivity – simple docking of a device with Android Auto with no external aerial, a device plus LTE modem with Wi-Fi Hotspot (with external antennas), an LTE modem with Wi-Fi and a mobile computing solution, or the previous option together with enhanced interoperability through DMO or other radio technologies.

The palatable buzz at the 2016 BAPCO Show couldn’t be missed. With around 1,245 attendees (90 per cent more than the year before) and a strong presence from the suppliers that will provide the devices and services needed to make the promise of the ESN a reality, Land Mobile is looking forward to reporting from BAPCO’s Autumn Event and bringing you more details on the ESN.

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